Yuji Naka talks the beginning of Phantasy Star 

The following interview comes from a Retro Gamer Issue 167 talk with RG’s Nick Thorpe and the game’s Director Yuji Naka regarding the Master System classic Phantasy Star. The magazine is available at newsstands and on both the App Store and Google Play and contains the full interview. Excerpts below include the beginnings of the game, motion sickness, RPGs being easy to make, a game called Dragon Quest, Star Wars inspirations and more…

The beginning of Phantasy Star…

“I’m not sure if it was on the Commodore 64 or the Amiga, but there was a 3D dungeon RPG at the time. The dungeon was shown in a smaller box on the screen, so it wasn’t the full screen. I was inspired by that, so I started experimenting on my own with the vision of trying to make a full-screen dungeon, rather than running it in a box. It wasn’t necessarily like an RPG, strictly speaking. I wanted it to be a speedy, action-like game. That vision was the beginning of Phantasy Star”

Master System limitations and motion sickness…

“The vision was to have a 3D dungeon in full screen rather than in a little box, and I managed to get it running at the speed I had intended. But at the time I was experimenting, I wasn’t mindful about hardware limitations – I was just doing an experimental build. I was able to smoothly go down the corridors and do quick turns, but then I experienced motion sickness. This was the first time I’d ever experienced motion sickness.”

‘RPGs weren’t that hard to make’…

“RPGs at the time really weren’t that hard to make. Really, I think action games were a lot harder to make, to make sure that you got the proper feel of the game, and you didn’t want the frame rate dropping too much, so to be able to maintain that was a challenge. With action games, I really focused on how the user experience was. With RPGs, there wasn’t such an issue in that sense so my focus was really on the technical side.”

‘There’s a game called Dragon Quest’…

“There’s a game called Dragon Quest that was popular in Japan at the time. The RAM was broken, and in our game it also was. Due to the hardware noise, the data often got corrupted – when you powered the machine on or off, it caused some kind of interference. What I did was create a backup of the backup, so you’d get an error message that told you that your data had been corrupted, and after a couple of prompts you’d get a message saying that your data had been restored. I can’t say for certain that it fixed everyone’s problems. But with Dragon Quest, because they didn’t have a backup feature, if you’d spent 30 hours plus in the game and for whatever reason the save data was corrupted, that was it. Seeing a message saying that your data had been repaired was a massive relief, and the core fans appreciated it.”

Star Wars inspirations…

“It was all done on a huge scale. What we were trying to do was to create something on such a scale in a sci-fi setting, and it was heavily inspired by Star Wars. I’m proud that we managed to keep it very original. With the first game the main character was a female – at the time, we didn’t have a lot of games with a female character as the main character, which makes it a unique experience.”

Final thoughts…

“With Phantasy Star, it’s a project that’s dear to my heart but we were always so busy with other projects – for example, Sonic The Hedgehog. I feel like looking back now, had I spent more time creating Phantasy Star content, maybe it would be bigger than it is now. Of course. the Phantasy Star Online series is out there now and still doing really well.”

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